Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” is viewed differently through Russian eyes

By Slava Tsukerman

Can a production of a play from 1882, made by a foreign director in a foreign language, create a political sensation?

Among the productions of German theatrical director Thomas Ostermeier, an artistic director of the Berlin Theater Schaubühne, there is a production of a classic Henrik Ibsen’s play “An Enemy of the People”. Two years earlier, this production had a great success at the famous festival in Avignon.

On October 5, 2014 this production was shown in Moscow as a part of IX International Festival of Contemporary Art and became one of the main sensations of the year.

Ostermeier interprets every classical play as if it were written today. Ibsen’s drama was modernized by the director with the help of Florian Borchmeyer, the permanent playwright of the Schaubühne theater.

The protagonist of the “An Enemy of the People”, Dr. Stockman, is a respected person in the small resort town, a young, successful professional and whose first child was born that day. According to the new adaptation, the doctor makes visits to the sick during the day and in the evening plays rock music with his friends, among whom is the editor of the local newspaper.

Stockman intends to publish an article in this paper suggesting closing the town’s water treatment plant because the water source is polluted with toxic waste from a local plant. The welfare of the town and its inhabitants depends on the plant. But the righteous doctor, like his classical prototype, is ready to set forth such a potentially unpopular demand.

The paper refuses to publish his article. Every leader of the town’s establishment opposes Stockman. And the doctor himself is fired from his job.

But he doesn’t give up and raises the sore subject in a public speech. This is the climax of the play. In the Ostermeier’s production the speech starts with the exact text of Ibsen.

But then new text is introduced stressing the current economy crisis and current environmental disasters. At some point a characters “rotten liberals” are to blame for all the problems. The audience begins to applaud vigorously.

At that moment, as planned by the director, lights came on in the hall and the opponents of Dr. Stockman went down into the audience, asking members to express their views on the ideas of the doctor. The vote was taken. Almost the entire audience voted against the “rotten liberals” and for anti-demoractic ideas.

Representatives of the audience were then invited to go on stage and speak. The incredible happened: almost half of the spectators moved to the stage.

The Germans putting on the production, use to a clash of opinions from which the truth is born, were clearly overwhelmed. No discussion, no arguments had happen. Everybody attacked liberals, democracy, free economy, and the West.

The audience completely disregarded poisoned water.

Those who marched to the stage were unwilling to leave, even after the German actors asked them to take their seats so that the play could go on. Finally, the audience was ejected from the stage for security reasons, and then actors proceeded with the performance. But by then the audience had lost interest to the problems of Dr. Stockman.

Of course only the members of the cultural elite attend theatrical productions of foreign modernistic directors. Yet nobody among such audiences in the Russian capital was ready to defend democratic and liberal values.

Оn September 14 the elections of the Moscow City Duma (city parliament) took place. Two hundred fifty eight candidates participated in the elections. Among them were 44 candidates of the Apple party, the most respected and moderate democratic party in Russia. Most of the Apple candidates had impressive track records. The Apple was the only party of liberal opposition permitted to participate in the election.

None of the Apple candidates was elected.

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Updated: October 21, 2014 — 11:41 am
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